Christmas is about gifts and presents. Around Christmas the shops are filled until late in the evening with shoppers who delayed buying their gifts. In the end hardly anyone can escape the pressure to buy gifts for others. Christmas is about one particular gift, but it not the type you can buy in a shop.. It is about the gift that was given to Mary, Jesus’ mother. An angel came to tell her that she was full of the Holy Spirit. Celebrating Christmas means sharing what happened to Mary at that moment. How often are we aware of being with the Holy Spirit? And when and where should this happen?
Many of the paintings of the annunciation show Mary at prayer. We do not know what Mary was doing when the angel arrived. Was it because she was at prayer that the angel told her that she was full of grace? I know of many people who have said that in years of praying they never felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in themselves.
Orthodox Bishop Anthony Bloom wrote about this problem in a book he wrote. He tells the story of a woman who complained to him that she had dedicated herself to prayer for over fourteen years, without ever feeling God’s real presence in her life. No driving light, no signs or signals—nothing. She remained stuck in the dark night of the soul. The bishop gave her his advice. After some time, the woman returned to him. She told him that she had followed his advice. She had gone home and sat down in her most comfortable chair with a cup of tea. She had started to knit. Eventually, she was totally relaxed. She glanced at the crucifix on the wall and a picture of mary. She looked out of her window at the beautiful garden, which was full of plants, flowers, and birds, and watched some children passing by on their roller skates. She gazed at the sun in the bright blue sky, and the tiny white clouds. She listened to the sounds in the street, the excited voices of the playing children, and suddenly…..it was given to her. She felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.
We tend to limit God’s presence in our lives to the times when we are at prayer. It is one way of getting God out of the rest of our lives. We only allow God to enter our lives when we are in church—kneeling with our eyes closed and hands folded. By only giving God access to those parts of our life we consider “holy”, we are reversing the roles. So that God’s presence in us does not depend on God but on us. Let us, at this time of year, let Jesus enter all the aspects of our life.